Bacteria-Printed Solar Cells Could Provide Cheap and Biodegradable Batteries

Researchers have recently succeeded in creating biodegradable batteries that could reduce waste and serve as a cleaner energy source.

The innovation largely relies on cyanobacteria. These aquatic organisms are also photosynthetic, meaning that they can manufacture their own food by converting sunlight into energy.

Researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Central Saint Martins, aimed to determined if they could combine the energy-generating properties of cyanobacteria with digital printing.

By putting the cyanobacteria into ink, the scientists developed a printing process that would enable the bacteria to photosynthesize, ultimately producing a small electric charge that could be harvested.

While the amount of electricity produced in these tests was relatively small, the innovation would still be useable for certain medical and environmental monitoring purposes. About nine of these cells can produce enough power to supply a digital clock or a flashing LED light.

Co-researcher Dr. Andrea Fantuzzi offers a practical example of how this technology could aid medical patients:

Paper-based BPVs integrated with printed electronics and biosensor technology could usher in an age of disposable paper-based sensors that monitor health indicators such as blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. Once a measurement is taken, the device could be easily disposed of with low environmental impact and its ease of use could facilitate its direct employment by the patients. Furthermore, this approach has the potential to be very cost-effective, which could also pave the way for its use in developing countries with limited healthcare budgets and strains on resources.

But the potential of this development is where things get even more interesting. As co-author Dr. Marin Sawa explained:

We think our technology could have a range of applications such as acting as a sensor in the environment. Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment.

The researchers also point out that their current test piece is only about palm-sized. They now hope to move to an A4 size so they can evaluate how much energy they could feasibly generate at larger scales. In time, the scientists may also be able to create more powerful batteries using cyanobacteria.

The field of biophotovoltaics has existed for a while, but scientists continue to struggle in making these innovations viable on a commercial scale. The idea of printing what would essentially be energy-producing wallpaper — even if it can only power small devices – succeeds where other innovations have fallen short: integration into our daily lives.

Of course, scientists have explored a range of other applications for the photosynthetic process, from trying to reproduce the chemical reactions more efficiently to harnessing solar energy for powering greenhouses.

Here’s a little more insight into the science of harnessing photosynthesis:

So, while scientists may not yet have the capabilities to harness photosynthesis as a major power source, the natural process does seem destined to play a part in our renewable energy future.

Photo Credit: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

49 comments

Mike R
Mike R1 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R1 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R21 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R21 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R21 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R26 days ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

The future, thanks

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

The future, thanks

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Patrice Z
Patrice Zabout a month ago

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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